Huangshan or Yellow Mountain
Huangshan has a well earned reputation as the most beautiful and stunning of China’s mountains. The views hiking mountain side and cliff top trails are incredible with the mountain peaks appearing to float on a sea of clouds. Huangshan is also Called Yellow Mountain but most people, even foreign tourists, use the name Huangshan.
Like the Great Wall, Huangshan is one of the classic symbols of China and has been the subject of Chinese art over the centuries. If you like hiking and natural scenery, visiting the Huangshan is a must and you should place it at the top of your must see destinations when you travel in China.
A little about the Yellow Mountain
Located in the southern end of Anhui province, the name Huangshan or Yellow Mountain is a little confusing because Huangshan is actually a mountain range with over 72 peaks that covers four counties.
Huangshan is also a world heritage site with a core area of 152 square kilometres and a surrounding buffer zone of 142 square kilometres. The main tourist area of Huangshan with the key hiking trails includes the three tallest and most famous peaks which are Lotus Peak (Lian Hua Feng – 1,864 meters), Bright Summit Peak (Guang Ming Ding – 1,840m) and Celestial Peak (Tian Du Feng 1,829 meters).
The Emperor and the Mountain
Huangshan was called Yishi or Yi Mountain until 747 AD when it was changed to Huangshan by Imperial decree. The name Huangshan or Huang Mountain was given as an honour to the legendary Huang Di or Yellow Emperor who is the mythical ancestor of Han Chinese.
Another part of the legend says that Huang Di cultivated his moral character (a popular occupation at the time) and made pills of immortality at Huangshan. No doubt the same pills of immortality that the Monkey God later stole in the famous Chinese classic “Journey West”.
The Attractions of Huangshan
Sea of Clouds or Huangshan Sea – Huangshan is most famous for the view of the cloud tops seen from the peaks above. In the right conditions a dense blanket of clouds will form that covers the entire mountain range with just the peaks of the highest mountains visible above the clouds. This sea of clouds effect is called the Huangshan Sea.
The best place to view the Sea of Clouds depends on altitude of the cloud level which will vary. In general Bright Peak which is the second highest on Huangshan is best for viewing the Sea of Clouds. The Sea of Clouds does not happen that often and even if you spend 3-4 days on Huangshan, you may not experience it. Winter is the season the Sea of Clouds is most likely to form.
Sunrises – Second only to the Sea of Clouds in beauty and fame are Huangshan’s sunrises. Many Chinese tourists and not a few foreign tourists make a pilgrimage to Huangshan just for the stunning sunrises.
The best places to view the sunrise on Huangshan are Dawn Pavilion (name says it all), Refreshing Platform, Lion Peak, Heavenly Capital Peak and a number of other spots. The best times for viewing sunrises depends on the season with 5:30am to 6:00am in Spring, 4:30am to 5:10am in Summer, 4:50am to 5:20am in Autumn and 5:30am to 6:00am in Winter being optimal.
Hot Springs – Huangshan has a hot springs area to the south near the Tankou entrance that is very popular with Chinese tourists. The hot springs come out of Purple Peak at an altitude of 850 meters and flow south to the main hot springs area called Xanadu. Some one from the Huangshan tourist board must have been watching too many soppy foreign films. Xanadu has a lovely bridge at its center, two springs flowing through it and several charming waterfalls.
The main activity and the main reason most tourists to go Huangshan is for the hiking which is amazing. Hiking Huangshan allows you to experience beautiful mountain scenery, explore one of China’s most biologically diverse reserves, witness stunning views and get an excellent work out.
There are several hiking trails on Huangshan where you cross wooden walkways/platforms with scary vertical drops that make you feel like you are literally walking in the sky.
There are two main types of hiking on Huangshan. The first type is hiking from the base of the mountains to the top and the second type is hiking on the top of the mountains.
Hiking to the Top – Most tourists take one of the three cable cars (also called telphers) to the top of Huangshan which are relatively cheap and save a lot of time. Not a bad idea if you only have a day to visit Huangshan but I definitely recommend you hike up and back down if you have enough time. This will allow you to experience one of the best parts of Huangshan and you’ll avoid queuing up with Chinese tourists and their megaphone toting guides.
The two main trails to the top of Huangshan are the Western Steps and the Eastern steps. Western Steps is 15 kilometers long with a steep and winding path that has the best views. Eastern Steps is only 7.5 kilometers long and much easier but the views are no where near as good. Depending on which trail you choose, the hike can take anywhere from 4 to 9 hours.
Hiking to the top of Huangshan may be difficult but it the trails are well established and safe with public toilets (not pretty but bearable) and stalls for food and drink along the way.
Hiking on the Top Huangshan – The main hiking routes on the top Huangshan are between the northern and southern cable car terminals. The eastern and northern hiking trails in this area are very enjoyable and, with a few detours, allow you to see the main peaks and attractions. The down side of these trails is that they are too easy and tend to be crowded with tour groups.
The best absolutely must hike trail on Huangshan is the West Sea or West Sea Grand Canyon trail. Despite having the most awesome views and no crowds, you will not find this trail on many maps or hear tour guides talk about it. It is a very physically demanding trail that you should only attempt if you are physically fit, prepared and carrying the bare minimum.
Depending on how far you go along the West Sea trail, it is over 15 kilometers long, can take over nine hours to hike and takes you up and down countless steps, through tunnels, up mountain trails, over bridges and provides grandstand views of the Nine Dragons Peak.
The best time to hike Huangshan is around August when all the trails are open, clear and easy to hike. Many of the trails are closed during the off season for maintenance and because snow in winter makes them inaccessible or too dangerous.
Tips for Visiting and Hiking Huangshan
Minimal packing – If you are going to be on Huangshan for just the day or even over night, back the minimum. This means day packs only with no suitcases or large backpacks and only carry essential toiletries and a change of under wear if you stay over night.
Only take light weight compact food such as energy bars and at least two to three liters of water for day trips. If you are going to be hiking mountainous terrain all day, you will be grateful for a light pack. You can leave heavier luggage at your hotel in Huangshan City or store your luggage at the Tangkou and Taiping management centers at the Huangshan’s northern and southern entrances.
In summer sunburn is a serious problem so make sure you have sunglasses and sunscreen. A light jacket is also a good idea because the weather can change and temperatures drop quickly.
Photography - The opportunities for photography on Huangshan are amazing so make sure you have plenty of spare memory and at least one fully charged spare battery. The facilities on Huangshan are minimal at best so don’t expect to charge batteries upload data or buy more memory.
Staying on Huangshan – Accommodation on Huangshan is very spartan because everything on the mountains is taken up by porters and very expensive (especially during peak season). I suggest you only stay on Huangshan if you if you plan on watching the sunrises or sunsets. Check the weather before making any plans and if it is bad, don’t stay over night.
When to visit – The best time to visit Huangshan depends on what you want to do and your tolerance for crowds. Early April and late November are the best for many of the views. August is the best time for hiking which is right in the middle of the peak season from July to October when everything is much more expensive. Reservations for hotels on Huangshan are also essential during this time.
Winter is the best time for viewing the Sea of Clouds and the snow covered scenery with trees covered in ice is beautiful. The problem with visiting Huangshan in winter is that many of the trails and mountain peaks are closed down for maintenance and because the snow can make the trails very dangerous.
How long to visit – If possible give yourself 3 days on Huangshan and a day to explore Huangshan City and the nearby Hong Chun Village. Hiking up and down the mountain will take most of a day as will hiking the West Sea trail. At least another day to leisurely enjoy the more sedate trails and numerous attractions would be ideal.
Huangshan City is a small city (by Chinese standards) at the base of the mountain range that serves as a gate way to the actual Huangshan Mountain. Huangshan City is not only a transport hub and good for cheap off mountain accommodation, it is also a tourist attraction in its own right.
Tunxi Ancient Village – In the center of the southern part of Huangshan City is an ancient village with streets over a thousand years old. Often used as a film set in period movies and TV series.
Hong Chun – Hong Chun is an ancient and beautiful village located around one and a half hours out of Huangshan City. Hong Chun was used as the set of the famous Chinese Kung Fu movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and played no minor part in the movies success.
The best way of getting to Huangshan is in two stages. The first stage is from Shanghai or Hangzhou to Huangshan City. The second stage is from Huangshan City to Huangshan Mountain.
Shanghai to Huangshan City 500km – There are direct flights between Shanghai and Huangshan City but unless you have a serious need to burn some cash, don’t fly. Two trains run daily to Huangshan from Shanghai and one of them is an over night train that would be ideal.
Buses run from Shanghai South bus station to Huangshan City and take 6 to 7 hours. Not as comfortable as the trains but make for an enjoyable trip.
Hangzhou to Huangshan City 300km – If you are lucky enough to be in beautiful Hangzhou, Huangshan City is only 4 hours away by bus. There are no trains from Hangzhou to Huangshan City.
Huangshan City to Huangshan Mountain 50km – You can catch buses from most major areas in the city to Huangshan Mountain and the buses will drop you off at the base of the cable car / telpher. From there you hike or join the tour groups and take a ride.
You can also take a taxi to Huangshan Mountain and finding people to share the taxi with you and split the costs is easy. Both bus and taxi should take no more than an hour to reach Huangshan.
Huangshan Mountain LInks